“Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition”

Bush Administration, corruption, criminal justice, U.S. Attorneys

Sidney Blumenthal:

In the U.S. attorneys scandal, Gonzales was an active though second-level perpetrator. While he gave orders, he also took orders. Just as his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has resigned as a fall guy, so Gonzales would be yet another fall guy if he were to resign. He was assigned responsibility for the purge of U.S. attorneys but did not conceive it. The plot to transform the U.S. attorneys and ipso facto the federal criminal justice system into the Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition had its origin in Karl Rove’s fertile mind.

There’s more evidence of political manipulation of justice this morning. Carol D. Leonnig writes for the Washington Post:

The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government’s racketeering case.

Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’s office began micromanaging the team’s strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government’s claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers.

She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony. And they ordered Eubanks to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her, she said.

“The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said,” Eubanks said. “And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public.”

If you don’t remember the tobacco case, here’s a June 8, 2005 article by Ms. Leonnig for background. She wrote then,

After eight months of courtroom argument, Justice Department lawyers abruptly upset a landmark civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry yesterday by asking for less than 8 percent of the expected penalty.

As he concluded closing arguments in the six-year-old lawsuit, Justice Department lawyer Stephen D. Brody shocked tobacco company representatives and anti-tobacco activists by announcing that the government will not seek the $130 billion that a government expert had testified was necessary to fund smoking-cessation programs. Instead, Brody said, the Justice Department will ask tobacco companies to pay $10 billion over five years to help millions of Americans quit smoking.

Steve Soto remarked (June 7, 2005):

Well, all those campaign contributions taken by Bush/Cheney (nearly $260,000 in 2000 and 2004) and the GOP from the tobacco industry over the years finally bought a $120 billion payday for Big Tobacco when the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department shocked the industry and anti-smoking advocates alike today by scuttling the government’s own litigation.

Remember when I said of the U.S. Attorney scandal, “this is huge“? If clear ties to President Bush are established, this issue has the potential of putting impeachment back on Nancy Pelosi’s to-do list.

Back to today’s article by Ms. Leonnig:

Yesterday was the first time that any of the government lawyers on the case spoke at length publicly about what they considered high-level interference by Justice officials.

Eubanks, who retired from Justice in December 2005, said she is coming forward now because she is concerned about what she called the “overwhelming politicization” of the department demonstrated by the controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Lawyers from Justice’s civil rights division have made similar claims about being overruled by supervisors in the past.

Pay close attention to this part:

Eubanks said Congress should not limit its investigation to the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys.

“Political interference is happening at Justice across the department,” she said. “When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general’s office, politics is the primary consideration. . . . The rule of law goes out the window.”

In its defense, the Justice Department explains it conducted its own internal investigation and cleared itself of wrongdoing. The JD also says the decision to pull back on the case was vindicated last year when a U.S. district judge said “she could not order the monetary penalty proposed by the government.” So they have an excuse for reducing the amount of damages sought. But changing testimony? Weakening the case?

The political appointees who allegedly interfered with the prosecution were “then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and Keisler’s deputy at the time, Dan Meron.” McCallum is now the U.S. ambassador to Australia

The Clinton Justice Department brought the unprecedented civil suit against the country’s five largest tobacco companies in 1999. President Bush disparaged the tobacco case while campaigning in 2000. After Bush took office, some officials expressed initial doubts about the government’s ability to fund the prosecution, Justice’s largest.

Eubanks said McCallum, Keisler and Meron largely ignored the case until it became clear that the government might win. She recalled that “things began to get really tense” after McCallum read news reports in April 2005 that one government expert, professor Max H. Bazerman of Harvard Business School, would argue that tobacco officials who engaged in fraud could be removed from their corporate posts. Eubanks said she received an angry call from McCallum on the day the news broke.

“How could you put that in there?” she recalled him saying. “We’re not going to be pursuing that.”

Afterward, McCallum, Keisler and Meron told Eubanks to approach other witnesses about softening their testimony, Eubanks said.

Yesterday Bob Barr, of all people, appeared on CNN blasting the Bush Administration’s apparent interference with the justice system. From Think Progress, which has the video:

Barr blasted the White House, saying “the integrity of the Department of Justice is being used as a political football by the administration to prove who’s the toughest hombre in all this.” Rather than fighting accountability, Barr said, “the administration really ought to be going out of its way to do what prior administrations have done, such as the Bush 1 administration and Reagan administrations, and that is take whatever steps are necessary to assure the American people that the integrity of our justice system has not been compromised.”

Last year Barr left the GOP to join the Libertarian Party. One wonders what the Bushies/GOP did to him to piss him off.

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  1. Donna  •  Mar 22, 2007 @8:44 am

    Ah, the flood of truth will drown the rats. I remember being so dispirited about the awful situation of the congressional Republican rubber-stampers allowing Bush to take America down the tubes……it is such a relief to have that be changed by the ’06 election.

  2. jpe  •  Mar 22, 2007 @9:24 am

    Absent evidence of kickback or something, the tobacco seems to me to be a perfectly legit policy decision.

  3. maha  •  Mar 22, 2007 @10:05 am

    Absent evidence of kickback or something, the tobacco seems to me to be a perfectly legit policy decision

    Since when is instructing witnesses to change their testimony for any reason “a perfectly legit policy decision”?

  4. diane  •  Mar 22, 2007 @10:38 am

    DId you watch Obermann last night with Chuck Schumer?
    He said Enough people are pissed off in the justice community that the information will come out in drips.
    Obermann interpreted that as Kyle but to me “enough people’ sounds like more then one.

    Do you really think bush is smart enough for this?
    This has the makings of CHENEY!!!!!

  5. jpe  •  Mar 22, 2007 @12:06 pm

    Since when is instructing witnesses to change their testimony for any reason “a perfectly legit policy decision”?

    That’s a tactical decision, and doesn’t impact the legitimacy of the policy decision. (nonetheless, lawyers frequently opine to witnesses on how testimony should be given, no?)

  6. maha  •  Mar 22, 2007 @12:15 pm

    Lawyers are allowed to coach witness about how to conduct themselves and to not offer more information than is asked, but they are not allowed to coach witnesses to change their testimony. In some cases that might amount to suborning perjury, which is a crime.

  7. .mr  •  Mar 22, 2007 @2:15 pm

    Even John Yoo said today: “Unless there are more clear facts of interference with prosecutors for partisan purposes, Mr. Gonzales should keep his job.”

    This is getting pretty close…wouldn’t you say?

  8. jpe  •  Mar 22, 2007 @2:51 pm

    Per the article, they were only changing the tone of the testimony. That’s the difference that makes the difference, if you will.

  9. maha  •  Mar 22, 2007 @2:58 pm

    jpe — it’s not a “policy change” to sabotage a case that’s already in court. If the Bush Administration had made the decision not to use JD resources to pursue additional cases against Big Tobacco that’s one thing, but this case was close to completion — the money was spent, in other words — and the politicians stepped in and sabotaged it, clearly because the defendants were friends of the administration.

    That’s just wrong. I don’t understand how you can’t see that.

  10. Donna  •  Mar 22, 2007 @5:43 pm

    jpe, I think the phrase that applies is ‘throwing the case’, sort of like an athlete ‘throwing a game’. You want to say such is upright behavior?

  11. Douglas Hughes  •  Mar 22, 2007 @7:47 pm

    I want to expand on Donnas example. It’s the 9th game of the Worls Series. A pitcher, who has benefited from contributions from gambler-tied betting concerns ops to ‘soften’ his pitching style. Would you say that’s his prerogative? I gues not if your money was on the other team.

    Me, I am an idealist. No mater which team wins, I want both teams to bring their best game, and let the chips fall. Otherwise the game has no meaning, other than to measure the skill of the cheaters. The allegation (not yet proven) is that the White House, who benefited from consideable contributions from the Tobacco Industry, MAY have interfered with an ongoing trial, and directed that the Justice Dept., ‘throw the game’.

    This is alleged, not proven. Yet. But if it turns out to be true, how can it NOT be criminal Obstruction of Justice if directions originated from the White House?

  12. Daniel DiRito  •  Mar 23, 2007 @11:37 am

    So on Thursday Alberto Gonzales once again told us he is working tirelessly to be sure he has every American’s back covered…especially our children. Should the alleged firing of six top performing U.S. Attorneys make us feel better?

    I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve always been suspicious of the guy that seems to go out of his way to tell you he’s “got your back covered”.

    See a sarcastic visual that demonstrates how many Americans feel when the Attorney General reassures us that he’s got our backs covered…here:


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